State Sen. George W. Della Jr.'s entry into the race for City Council president appears to have been a desperate effort to retain power by the old b'hoys political network that controlled South Baltimore politics for decades.
A three-month effort by products of that network to find a challenger to the incumbent president, Mary Pat Clarke, appeared to have failed until Della walked into the city election board office Friday and filed his candidacy.
But even those who encouraged Della to jump into the race concede he will have a difficult time trying to defeat the popular Clarke.
"It will be tough for him to win but Clarke is vulnerable on issues like redistricting," said state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City. "George can make a race out of it."
Clarke also could lose votes to Daki Napata, a black political activist and southwest Baltimore community organizer who, at the last minute, switched from the mayoral race to the race for council president.
Clarke last March forcefully guided through the City Council a new redistricting plan that drastically altered the faces of the councilmanic districts. She made it clear that plan was designed in part to further weaken the influence of the old-boy political network.
Leaders of the old-line, male-dominated political clubs expressed anger and frustration over their inability to block the plan.
"I expected all along that if I got an opponent it would come from the 6th District and the Stonewall Club," Clarke said in response to Della's candidacy.
Della represented the 6th in the council from 1976 to 1982, when he won a seat in the Maryland Senate. He and former state Sen. Harry McGuirk are the leaders of the Stonewall Democratic Club, which at one time dominated South Baltimore politics.
State Sen. Julian L. Lapides, who shares the same political home base as Clarke, acknowledged that voters might be angry with her, but said, "It remains to be seen if that will translate into votes for Della. He's a viable challenger, but I don't think Mary Pat will have too much to worry about."
In the three-way race for council president in 1987, Clarke, who is white, beat a black challenger, state Sen. Larry Young, D-City, and a white challenger, McGuirk, now an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Although it appeared that McGuirk could cut into Clarke's support in the white community so as to allow Young a victory, she managed to capture nearly 30 percent of the black vote to edge out Young.
Mary Pat should easily get 30 percent of the black vote this time as well," said Young.
Miedusiewski said Friday afternoon that if a major black candidate also got into the race, that development could enhance Della's chances.
FTC Before Della's candidacy, some of the b'hoys had tried to recruit prominent blacks into running for the council presidency in an effort to ensure that a white would defeat Clarke. They tried and failed to recruit Young; Councilwoman Jacqueline McLean, D-2nd; and Saundra Banks, clerk of the city Circuit Court.
Della filed his candidacy early Friday, giving potential black challengers nearly 11 hours to decide about entering the race.
But only Napata emerged.
Political observers say they believe Napata will articulate the issues but they don't think he can draw enough of Clarke's black support to help Della significantly. Napata will have little money and he has never put together a citywide campaign.
Why did Della enter the race?
He said the voters deserve to have a choice and he will work hard to win.
"I feel I can help the city," he said. "I have a close relationship with state government leaders and, having been in the council, I know how how city government works."
But political observers think there are other motives involved. Clarke had vowed to get involved in councilmanic races in several districts in order to help elect a council she could totally control.
Della was one of a number of political leaders who said several weeks ago they hoped someone would get into the race to keep Clarke occupied with her re-election efforts.
Political observers also think that with Della running at the top of the ticket in the city elections, it would draw more residents of the 6th District to vote and, thereby, help that district's three incumbent council members get re-elected.